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The Maltese Falcon
Crime, Drama, Thriller, Mystery, Film-Noir
IMDB rating:
John Huston
Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade
Mary Astor as Brigid O'Shaughnessy
Gladys George as Iva Archer
Peter Lorre as Joel Cairo
Barton MacLane as Det. Lt. Dundy
Lee Patrick as Effie Perine
Sydney Greenstreet as Kasper Gutman
Ward Bond as Det. Tom Polhaus
Jerome Cowan as Miles Archer
Elisha Cook Jr. as Wilmer Cook
James Burke as Luke
Murray Alper as Frank Richman
Storyline: Spade and Archer is the name of a San Francisco detective agency. That's for Sam Spade and Miles Archer. The two men are partners, but Sam doesn't like Miles much. A knockout, who goes by the name of Miss Wanderly, walks into their office; and by that night everything's changed. Miles is dead. And so is a man named Floyd Thursby. It seems Miss Wanderly is surrounded by dangerous men. There's Joel Cairo, who uses gardenia-scented calling cards. There's Kasper Gutman, with his enormous girth and feigned civility. Her only hope of protection comes from Sam, who is suspected by the police of one or the other murder. More murders are yet to come, and it will all be because of these dangerous men -- and their lust for a statuette of a bird: the Maltese Falcon.
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A great, smart noir whose pace covers the plot holes and is based on some great performances
Private detectives Sam Spade and Miles Archer are hired to follow a man called Thursby for a woman. When Archer is murdered and Thursby gunned down, the police and Spade are keen to get answers. When the woman reveals she was lying about her motivations and her identity (she is really Bridget O'Shaughnessy), Sam finds out that she and Thursby were hiding a valuable statute of a falcon. The situation gets more complex when Bridget and Sam come under pressure form other sources that also want the falcon for themselves - namely the pompous Kasper Gutman and the weasely Joel Cairo.

The fact that this film is considered a classic almost makes it difficult to come to this with an objective view, but I did the best I could when I came to see it again for the first time in quite a few years. The film is pretty much a classic that deserves it reputation and stands out as a great bit of hardboiled detective stories from the period. The plot is a little complex at the start as the characters are introduced, but it quickly settles down to be a film with a solid plot that is enjoyable despite the fact that it falls down occasionally. The plot details are too often blurred or just forgotten about - giving the impression of a plot that is more complex than it actually is. However this isn't a problem as the film has enough pace and tough energy to cover these weaknesses and never let you linger for very long on them. The direction from Huston is very good, using almost totally interior shots to increase the tension and the feeling - amazingly this was his first film as director, but you wouldn't know it to watch it. Of course, needless to say, the writing (both source and screenplay) is top notch and is one of the big selling points of the film.

The dialogue is really tough and full of memorable lines, 'When you're slapped you'll take it and like it' probably being the one that everybody remembers. A big reason that the dialogue works as well as it does is down to the fantastic performances from all the cast, although having said that it is dominated by the lead. Bogart summed up his most famous roles for future generations in this one film. He is a complex guy who we're never sure is straight of crooked, he is tough and violent - sleeping with his partner's wife and unafraid of anything. The dialogue fits him like a glove and this is one of my favourite of his performances as it is the one of the ones where he seems to have got everything bang on. Astor is good because, for me, she doesn't fit into the usual role of femme fatale - she is quite needy and demur and that is even more dangerous than the women who are overtly sexual and manipulative, as they were frequently in the later noirs. Lorre is the wonderful, weedy, snivelling character than he does so well and is remembered for. Likewise Greenstreet is a great actor and manages to be overblown without being silly. Cook has a small role but shows his talents in little ways - his reaction when he realises how expendable he is to Gutman is great.

Overall this is a classic film that will please all fans of detective stories and the noir genre. It has a flawed plot but it's dialogue and tough energy cover those up enough to keep things moving all the time. The characters are complex, none more so than Spade himself who is as smart as he is gullible and as cold as he is loving , and they are brought to life by a series of great performances. On top of all this, the film is dominated by a Bogart performance that acts as a perfect example of his most famous work.
The dawn of American film noir
John Huston jump started the "American noir" genre with this masterpiece. WB, the movie public, and of course, Bogart were lucky for sure that George Raft turned down the role. It marked the film debut of Greenstreet and the beginning of the Huston-Bogart team which reached it's zenith in 1948. That year they topped TMF with film's greatest ever, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Huston's incomparable talent for producing great scene after great scene is initiated here in his directorial debut. In his best films which are many there is no dead time because there is something significant happening in every scene. This movie has to be viewed at least twice to be fully appreciated because of the lightning plot speed. Bogart's unmatched screen presence is on full display as he appears in ALL BUT ONE scene and dare's the viewer to take their eyes off him. Still an all-time top ten American film.
Film Lovers Study This Movie
This is by far my favorite American film noirs of the 30s/40s. And kind of light on the "noir" aspect at that, as agreed my many. But in narrative and style, it is definitely dark. Based off of a Dashiell Hammett short-story, this is the account of a surly private-eye, who stumbles onto circumstance and characters he really doesn't need in his life. The camera use, lighting (and lack thereof) are all supremely done in this film. Sydney Greenstreet is forever evil this story, and makes his "Ferrari" character in Casablanca look like a small-time street thug. There are really no characters with redeeming qualities in this film. For a while you might think Spade's secretary is above the scam, but in the narrative, she really ends up getting in on the action and following the boss's orders. Peter Lorre, like Greenstreet, is evil, too, and like many of his rolls as an unsavory type, you still might find yourself cheering him on. You will find new elements in the film each time you watch it, and if you're a real buff for the hard- boiled pulp of the era, watch it soon for your first time, then start it all over again, and identify what you missed the first time!
Slightly overrated
Bogart made his name as a private detective in this one, so the expectations were pretty much high prior to watching. Humprey's being classical Humprey, cool, old school macho trying to wiggle his way out an elaborate scheme revolving around the ancient artifact, but that's pretty much it. Rest of the cast, as the script itself will blend into a classical conspiracy/crime story of that era, with all the right moves and turns, but lacking any kind of innovation at all. „Maltese Falcon" is solid piece of movie history and a classical Bogart's role that made him what he is.
It's all right
I felt like I'd seen 'The Maltese Falcon' before, probably because as these things go it's pretty standard. A few dry quips, rapid fallings-in-love, double crosses, and characters pinging from hotel room to hotel room explaining the plot to each other while with every round of exposition it becomes less and less clear who did what to whom and why.

I mean, it's fine but nothing special. It's worth watching for Humphrey Bogart, who is, as always, a magnetic screen presence, not the greatest actor in the world but a proper Movie Star. The highlight of the film for me, however, is the performance of Sydney Greenstreet, with his entertaining line in affable menace and a squeaky giggle that really tickled me.

Solid stuff but nothing that really grabbed me.
The best detective story.
I love this movie. I didn't love it until I'd watched it a couple of times.

And I didn't love it quite so much until I'd read Harvey Greenberg's "Movies on Your Mind."

But I now think that, within the strictures of its budget, it's about as good as it can get. Sam Spade is a marvelous character in this film. He gives practically nothing away, while gathering information from others simply by letting them talk, kind of like a shrink.

And it's hard to believe that they could have found a cast that fit the templates of the novel so perfectly. Sidney Greenstreet IS the "fat man." Peter Lorre IS the queer. My nomination for best scene: When Greenstreet attempts to peel off the black enamel from the captured bird and finds that it's nothing but lead and begins to hack away at it, as if it were alive and he were trying to kill it. Nothing is more amusing than a fat man lipid with rage.

If you see this one, and I hope you do, make note of the phenomenal black and white photography. (I hope you have a good connection.) Watch, for instance, the glissade of the camera when Bogart says, "You have brains. Yes, you do."

In case you're worried about this being too sophisticated for enjoyment by an ordinary audience, I should mention that I showed this (in one connection or another, I forget) to a class of Marines at Camp Lejeune. They enjoyed the hell out of it, especially the scene in which Mary Astor kicks Peter Lorre in the shins.

Don't miss it.
Maltese Falcon ***
This is supposedly one of the first of the film noir genre, but I ask, what's the big fuss here?

Humphrey Bogart is Sam Spade and his partner, played by Jerome Cowan who briefly appears, is murdered.

Before the murder, both guys are visited by Mary Astor, who in reality, steals the film. A very complex woman, Astor first comes across as sympathetic and vulnerable, but as the film goes on, she is shown to be in the thick of murder and intrigue. For sure, she is certainly the femme fatale here. Lee Patrick is convincing as the widow of Cowan, who really loved Spade. Peter Laurie is up to his old cynicism as ever and Sydney Greenstreet again proves that he shall do whatever is possible to gain his objective, no matter how sinister he has to be.

The plot of trying to retrieve a valuable falcon statue from the crusade period is rather average at best.
The Maltese Falcon (1941) **1/2
Another of those uncomfortable times where I have to step up to the plate as one of the few who finds a universally revered "classic" Overrated. THE MALTESE FALCON does have much going for it: It's got one of Humphrey Bogart's greatest performances as tough detective Sam Spade; some sensational dialogue; smart casting in Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet and Elisha Cook, Jr. (Mary Astor - not as smart); dark and brooding noir photography; but the most important thing goes wrong -- the plot is so highly convoluted, full of holes, and so nearly impossible to follow that it makes for a real headache-inducing 100 minutes. I liked the characters and actors so much that I really "wanted" to get involved in the story. But everything was strewn all over the place and confused me enough that I was prevented from fully getting into the movie. There have been some films that seemed incomprehensible to me at times, but as long as most of their loose ends become tied up by the time the end credits begin to roll, I'm usually a happy moviegoer. FALCON did not afford me that privilege and was very hard to follow. I can't consider that the mark of a great motion picture. **1/2 out of ****
A Statuette To Die For
"The Maltese Falcon" is the unforgettable, groundbreaking crime drama which is regarded by many as the first film noir of the classic period. Its significance in Hollywood history is enormous as it provided John Huston with his directorial debut and Humphrey Bogart with the role which made him into a major star. Huston's screenplay famously remained very faithful to the style of dialogue used in Dashiell Hammett's book and in so doing provided some wonderfully economic and incisive lines, particularly for Bogart's character.

Bogart's role also had a broader significance because as Sam Spade, he brought to the screen a new type of hard boiled detective who was destined to become the template for a whole succession of others who would appear in numerous films noirs particularly in the 1940s and 1950s. These men would be morally ambiguous , fast talking tough guys who had a cynical attitude to the world and who lived by their own set of principles.

Sam Spade is no one's idea of nice guy. He keeps his emotions armour plated and when his business partner is suddenly murdered shows no concern of any sort. He had also been having an affair with his partner's wife but in his dealings with her, he also seems rather cold and offhand. Despite these characteristics and his obviously jaundiced attitude to life and people, his character is redeemed to some extent by a subtle quality which Bogart's innate charisma brings to the part.

In "The Maltese Falcon" Spade is hired by a Miss Wonderley (Mary Astor) to find her sister. This job leads to the death of his partner Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan) and shortly after, to the murder of the alleged seducer of Miss Wonderley's sister. Miss Wonderley then contacts Spade and tells him that her real name is Brigid O'Shaughnessy and that the story about her sister had been as false as the name she'd given him and she then pays him to find out who was responsible for the two murders.

Spade's subsequent investigations bring him into contact with Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre), the "Fat Man" Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet) and his henchman Wilmer (Elisha Cook Jnr.) and it becomes apparent that they are all on a ruthless quest to locate the priceless statuette called "The Maltese Falcon". Furthermore, he discovers that O'Shaughnessy's earlier subterfuge had been linked to the fact that she also had been trying to find the "Falcon". Spade eventually identifies the murderer and informs the police who go on to arrest the culprit.

Brigid O'Shaughnessy had acted naive, timid and vulnerable when she had first encountered Spade but his natural scepticism prevented him from being taken in by her. Joel Cairo was a small, nervy, effeminate man and Wlmer was generally a silent presence during Spade's conversations with the "Fat Man". Gutman was sophisticated, good humoured and friendly on the surface but was also extremely dangerous and untrustworthy. He also delivers some amusing and eccentric lines such as when speaking to Spade he says "Now Sir, we'll talk if you like and I'll tell you right out that I'm a man who likes talking to a man that likes to talk".

Bogart and Huston worked well together and went on to collaborate on other major successes such as "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (1948), "Key Largo" (1948) and "The African Queen" (1951). "The Maltese Falcon" was also a great box office success, was well received by the critics and was also nominated for Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Sydney Greenstreet) and Best Adapted Screenplay (John Huston).
Classic film noir - but more holes than a Swiss cheese.
Private "dick" Sam Spade loses his partner to murder and finds himself surrounded by dubious characters searching for a precious antique.

So much has been written about this film that it seems churlish and obvious to start repeating and paraphrasing. Certainly it delivers lightweight thrills, set pieces and sharp one-liners as well as any low budget film and is almost a template for the thousand laconic private-eye movies (serious and otherwise) that followed.

It also set Humphrey Bogart on the road to being the ultimate (film) private detective: A wonderful invention in that they can be both criminal and policeman as convenience dictates.

However, at the risk of seeming negative too soon, there is plenty of things wrong with this movie, most notably the one-dimensional back-of-a-cigarette-packet plot. Where is the suspense when pointing a gun at our hero makes no difference to his demeanour? Do we really believe that the villains will outwit Spade and actually carry off their quarry? Or that Spade will fall for the lame excuses and explanations given in the movie?

Bogart is one of those actors that tries not to gesture or even blink. Variety comes by way of talking in double time or wisecracking. It really reminds me of what Robert De Niro said about acting "people don't show emotions - they try to hide them." The death of his partner (one of the driving points of this movie) doesn't seem to upset him too much, his first thoughts are about removing his name from the door! However, despite his lack of height or conventional good looks, the camera loves him and that is all that matters. He is cooler than a snowman in a North Pole blizzard.

Lorre and Greenstreet are rolled in almost like a comedy double act, with all the menace of second-hand car salesmen (however many guns they pull out). We know that cheats don't prosper in this Warner Brothers film noir world, but they obviously haven't read the rules. They still seem to enjoy their moment of being "king of the castle" and chew the furniture to order, but these people are clearly not in our hero's league.

While highly enjoyable, the Maltese Falcon hardly takes cinema to new levels. If Bogart had not made this movie, but everything else had stayed the same, it would be a totally forgotten work - like the prior version of this same film.

Arm Bogie with a few one-liners, dress him in a dirty raincoat and plonk him on those cheap hardboard-and-smoke Warner Brothers sets and you have solid gold. You just can't go wrong. We will never see his like again...
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